As a curfew is lifted, Baghdad is at long last partying again

The Washington Post reports: The Iraqi government on Thursday abolished the nighttime curfew imposed on Baghdad by U.S. troops in 2003, heralding another small milestone in the city’s recent — and surprising — revival.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the curfew will end at midnight Saturday, as well as a series of other measures aimed at normalizing life in the long-blighted capital, even as much of the rest of the country is consumed by war.

He declared four neighborhoods as “demilitarized zones,” in which unauthorized gunmen will be prohibited. He also vowed to start removing the blast walls and barricades that have blocked streets, sealed off neighborhoods and endowed the capital with the air of a militarized zone for much of the past decade.

Similar moves have been promised in the past, only to founder on waves of bombings and violence or repression by government security forces­.

But these days, Baghdad feels different.

Since Islamic State fighters overran much of the north and west of the country in the summer, a paradoxical sense of calm has taken hold. The initial panic that followed the militant onslaught has abated, and as residents have come to realize that the capital is not at risk of falling, Baghdad has sprung to life.

Nightclubs have proliferated, liquor stores dot the streets, and families pile into cars every evening to eat at one of the many new restaurants or stroll in the glitzy new mall. A glittering riverboat plies the Tigris River every night, serving dinner on one deck and coffee on another. A pink neon palace called the Barbie Clinic pampers women with beauty treatments late into the evening.

For those who can’t afford such venues, there are impromptu parties along the bridges and banks of the Tigris, where young men gather with cans of beer to talk, socialize and, after the drink has taken effect, dance in the streets.

The merriment comes to an abrupt close as midnight approaches, triggering a mad dash through the streets to make it home in time.

“Now we will be able to stay until the morning,” Khaled Faisal, 28, said as he sat on a wall beside the river sipping beer with two friends. He welcomed the lifting of the curfew. “It’s good news. It means Baghdad is safe,” he said.

Whether Baghdad is safe is in question. [Continue reading…]

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